Milk Street: Udon Noodles at Home (Ep 515)

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Homemade Udon Noodles
Start to finish: 4 hours (11⁄2 hours active)
Makes about 13⁄4 pounds uncooked noodles (about 3 lbs cooked noodles)

Udon is a type of Japanese wheat noodle. The
thick, chewy strands can be served in hot soup,
eaten cold with dipping sauce, stir-fried or simply sauced. When adapting Sonoko Sakai’s udon formula from her book, “Japanese Home
Cooking,” we found that the type of flour used
and relative humidity can impact how much
water is needed to make the noodle dough. For
best results, the dough should be on the dry side, but should contain just enough moisture so it holds together when first mixed; if needed, work in more water 1 tablespoon at a time, but err on the side of dry rather than wet. With resting and kneading, the dough will hydrate and become smooth, silky and very elastic. And as for kneading, the classic homestyle way is to stomp on the dough by foot, a good—and fun!—way to develop strong gluten structure; we put the dough into a doubled heavy-duty plastic bag before stepping on it to ensure everything stays clean. If this method isn’t for you, we also include instructions for kneading the dough by rolling it with a rolling pin, a technique that also develops strength in the dough. The recipe makes about 13⁄4 pounds of uncooked noodles. Unlike most types of fresh noodles, this udon requires lengthy cooking—about 15 minutes of boiling—in order to attain the correct texture.

Don’t salt the cooking water for the udon. The noodles themselves contain a good amount of sodium (it helps develop structure and chewiness), so if the water is also salted, the noodles may end up overseasoned. After draining the noodles, it’s important to rinse them under running cold water to wash off excess starch and to stop the cooking.

INGREDIENTS
25 grams (11⁄2 tablespoons) table salt
1 cup warm water (about 100°F)
520 grams (4 cups) all-purpose flour
Cornstarch, for dusting

INSTRUCTIONS
In a small bowl, mix together the salt and warm water until the salt dissolves. Put the flour in a large bowl, add half of the saltwater and mix with a wooden spoon until the water is absorbed. Add the remaining saltwater and mix, using your hands once the water has been absorbed, until a shaggy but cohesive dough forms. If the mixture is very dry and won’t come together, mix in additional water 1 tablespoon at a time, but it’s best to err on the side of too little water than too much. Transfer to a 1-gallon heavy-duty zip-close bag, press out the air and seal the bag; let rest for 30 minutes.

If kneading by foot, place the bag with the dough inside another 1- gallon zip-close bag, press out the air and seal; set the bag on the floor and repeatedly step on the dough with your feet, being careful not to tear or puncture the plastic, until the dough fills the bag. If kneading with a rolling pin, lay the bag on the counter and, using a rolling pin, press down on the dough to flatten it, then roll it out until it fills the bag. Remove the dough from the bag, fold it into thirds like a business letter, return it to the inner bag and seal both bags, pressing out the air. Repeat the process 4 more times, until the dough is very smooth and elastic; after the fifth pressing or rolling, leave the dough flat (do not fold the dough into thirds). Make sure the bags are well sealed and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for up to 1 day (if refrigerated, let the dough stand at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes before proceeding).

Lightly dust a rimmed baking sheet with cornstarch. Remove the dough from the bags and set it on the counter. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough in half. Set one piece aside and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Using a rolling pin, roll the second piece into a 12-inch square 1⁄8 inch thick. It’s fine if the square isn’t perfect; it’s more important that the dough be of an even thickness. Evenly dust the surface of the dough with cornstarch, then accordion-fold it in thirds. Using a chef’s knife and a decisive cutting motion (do not use a sawing action), cut the dough crosswise into 1⁄8-inch-wide noodles. Unfold the noodles, transfer to the prepared baking sheet and cover with another kitchen towel. Repeat with the remaining dough.

In a large pot, bring 5 quarts water to a boil. Using your hands, add the noodles to the pot, shaking them over the baking sheet to remove excess starch. Cook, stirring occasionally, until a noodle rinsed under cold water is tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse the noodles under running cold water and drain again.


Udon Noodles in Soy Broth
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

A simple broth of dashi (Japanese stock) and soy sauce is a great way to appreciate the chewy
texture and wheaty flavor of homemade udon
noodles. This broth is based on Sonoko Sakai’s
kombu and bonito dashi formula in “Japanese
Home Cooking.” To make this with dried udon,
use 6 ounces, cook them according to package
instructions but rinse them after draining under
warm water rather than cool water so they aren’t completely cold when divided among the serving bowls.

INGREDIENTS
4-inch square (about 1⁄2 ounce) kombu
31⁄2 to 4 cups (about 1 ounce) lightly packed bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
1⁄3 cup soy sauce
11⁄2 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons white sugar
1⁄2 recipe (about 14 ounces) homemade udon noodles, uncooked
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Shichimi togarashi, to serve (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS
In a large saucepan
over medium, heat the kombu and 6 cups water to just below a simmer. Remove the kombu (discard it or reserve it for another use) and bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high. Turn off the heat, add the bonito flakes and let steep for about 2 minutes. Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. Discard the bonito and return the broth to the pan. Stir in the soy sauce, mirin and sugar; set aside.|

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Using your hands, add the noodles to the pot, shaking them over the baking sheet to remove excess starch. Cook, stirring occasionally, until a noodle rinsed under cold water is tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the broth to a simmer over medium, then remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

When the noodles are done, drain in a colander, rinse under running warm water and drain again. Divide the noodles among individual bowls. Ladle in the hot broth and sprinkle with the scallions. If desired, serve with shichimi togarashi.


Udon Noodles with Spicy Meat and Mushroom Sauce
Start to finish: 50 minutes
Servings: 6

This meaty, umami-rich sauce from “Japanese
Home Cooking” by Sonoko Sakai is a perfect
match for thick, hearty udon noodles, whether you use homemade or store-bought. A salty fermented chili-bean paste called toban djan provides the spiciness; use the smaller dose if you’re sensitive to chili heat. If you’ve used the larger amount and still want more heat in the sauced noodles, pass a bottle of chili oil at the table.

Don’t forget to stir the cornstarch-water
slurry before adding it to the sauce. Upon
standing, the starch settles to the bottom of
the bowl, so stirring is necessary to recombine. After adding the slurry to the sauce, make sure to return to a simmer while stirring so the sauce thickens properly and doesn’t form starchy lumps.

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
8 ounces 80 percent lean ground beef
8 ounces ground pork
4 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and finely chopped
8-ounce can bamboo shoots, rinsed, drained and finely chopped (optional)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1⁄4 cup sake
1 to 2 tablespoons chili-bean sauce (toban djan)
2 tablespoons miso, preferably red
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 recipe (about 13⁄4 pounds) homemade udon noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1⁄2 English cucumber, cut into matchsticks

INSTRUCTIONS
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the sesame oil until shimmering. Add the ground beef and pork, then cook, stirring and breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots (if using), garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, sake, chili-bean sauce, miso, soy sauce and mirin. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer, until the liquid has reduced by half, 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water; set aside.

When the liquid is properly reduced, stir the cornstarch slurry to recombine, then stir it into the meat-mushroom mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce returns to a simmer and has thickened, about 1 minute. Add the noodles to the pot, toss to combine with the sauce and cook, stirring, just until the noodles are heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Divide among individual bowls and top with the scallions and cucumber.


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PHOTO CREDITS: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES